Cirque du Soleil, Avatar-style, is coming to Birmingham!

One of the very few movies we actually own that doesn't have "Disney" plastered on the cover, Avatar is one of my all-time favorite films. The setting is surprising and visually rich, and the plot is heavily mixed with the full range of man vs. man, self, and nature conflicts. There is a unique blend of science fiction with that all-too-familiar historical scenario of a native group's homeland being targeted by invaders...and oh, there's also some romance, too. Avatar is an underestimated and intricate movie that I count as a favorite, and I will go to my grave believing that Stephen Lang was robbed of an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain in it. Seriously, that last fight scene?! James Cameron is a genius. 

http://www.ticketmaster.com/TORUK-The-First-Flight-tickets/artist/2114288

http://www.ticketmaster.com/TORUK-The-First-Flight-tickets/artist/2114288

Recently while scooting through downtown Birmingham, I noticed an Avatar billboard. Those blue Na'Vi people will just jump right out at you. As it turns out, Cirque du Soleil has this whole big Avatar-themed show! Called TORUK - The First Flight, audience members are immersed in the land of Pandora in a performance based on the first flight of the toruk, which is the gigantic dragon-like creatures with whom the native Na'Vi people must bond before taking flight throughout the floating mountains.

 My brain can't even sort out how they're gonna pull this off at the BJCC, but these three things I know for sure:

1. It is going to be fabulous.
2. I am so going to be there.
3. I want you to see it, too!

I've been given 4 free tickets to give away to the opening night of Cirque du Soleil's TORUK! They're good for Friday, August 19th (show time is at 7:30pm and it is considered family-friendly).

To enter, comment below for an entry in the random drawing. Just tell me why you want these tickets and who you'll take if you win.

This is a value of over $130, folks! The giveaway will end at 5:00pm on Wednesday, August 17th, and I'll post the winner shortly thereafter. Check back next Wednesday to see if you're the winner!

And if you're just not patient enough to wait til Wednesday, go here to buy your tickets now.

Jalapeno Poppin' Goodness

My weekly small group just kicked back up, and the theme was finger foods. The Captain has been craving these jalapeno poppers lately, so it was a good time to whip some up for my peoples. It's a pretty simple recipe but packs quite the kick!

Prepping for our group of about 10, I started with 20 whole jalapeno peppers. 

Cut them in half, and scrape out the seeds and membrane, as this is the really hot part of the pepper. I learned the hard way that if you're gonna be handling some jalapenos, then honey, you better glove up. My hands burned for 24 hours and it took a combination of about 10 different home remedies to stop the insanity. Next time? Rubber/plastic gloves for sure.

They are really pretty when their innards are scooped out!

Blend 1/2 block of cream cheese and about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar. Spread about a tablespoon of stuffing into each pepper. You want it to be even with the top of the pepper.

Ahhhh, bacon. Delicious bacon.... Take your package and cut it in half down the center.

Wrap one 1/2 slice of bacon around your stuffed pepper, making sure to keep the seam on the bottom side of the pepper (this eliminates the need for toothpicks, which are fickle and tend to burn anyway).

Bake for 30 minutes at 350, then turn on your broiler for 5-10 minutes to crisp up that bacon. Watch it closely during the last five minutes or so to make sure they don't burn.

Let these babies cool, and then you have a delicious appetizer for your spicy food lovers!

5 Resources Providing Open Source Images

Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/91779914@N00/2279892412 under CC 2.0

Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/91779914@N00/2279892412 under CC 2.0

Sometimes people mistake me or others in my profession as the Copyright Police. And while it's true that we librarians may literally be the only people who care so passionately about adhering to copyright laws, I think most people out there - from teachers assembling a PowerPoint for a science lesson to students creating an infographic to instructional leaders presenting at conferences to bloggers who write for a living - they really do have some level of respect for intellectual property. Sometimes people get nervous with image use because they aren't sure if they really can use that image that they want to use, or if they go ahead and use it, they fret over whether they've cited it properly.

*From Unsplash.com under CC0.

*From Unsplash.com under CC0.

My advice is simple, and it's the same regardless of your age, purpose, or profession. If you want to be absolutely certain that you aren't breaking any copyright rules with images, then you have two choices:

1. Generate your own images, with your phone/camera/computer/tablet/whatever,
OR
2. Use an Open Source or Creative Commons image.

Here are five - of MANY - websites that offer searchable collections of free, Open Source (free to use) images:

The great thing about these is that they provide pretty nice quality images - some clip art, but most are actual pictures, and you may have to wade through a few ads or sponsored images (ahem, Shutterstock) they're still providing you with gobs of content and asking nothing in return, not even account creation. And even though they don't require you to cite under most Creative Commons licenses, in my librarian heart of hearts I'll always do it anyway, even if just to promote their website. It's the least we could do, right?

What are your favorite sources for free, Open Source images?

Shelby County Wine Trail

This post has been very...trying. For reasons neither I nor my friendly web fairies can explain, the Internet deleted the entire text of the post I first wrote on this topic. So I rewrote it.

But then....you guys, then it happened again. So I've had to walk away from this post for a bit before something like this happened:

Image from Pixabay under CC0.

Image from Pixabay under CC0.

Despite having written this post three whole times now (plus that time in my head, so I guess we are at FOUR), I'm still probably going to forget something.

The thing is, The Captain and I love celebrating our anniversary and man, we do it up right. We spent our second anniversary touring old parts of Montgomery and taking in a Shakespeare Festival play, and for our 10th we went to New York. For our 12th we took a no-kids trip to Universal Studios (my gift to Matt was no stopping for pictures; his gift to me was not having to carry one single solitary thing around in that park, not even in my pockets...ah, the simple things in life!!). This year was our 14th, and we spent the first part of our day together slowly making our way around Shelby County to hit a few stops on the Alabama Wine Trail

The three vineyards we visited were:

We started off in North Calera at Vizzini Farms, and arrived just as the lunch rush was trailing off. They offered a free tasting and tour of the winery room, led by the owner who was gruff yet endearing in that old-man-from-the-North sort of way. He showed us pictures of his ancestors and told us all about his family's immigration journey and struggles to establish their business. We were very intrigued by a single bottle of wine he had on display that had a whole peach inside. When I asked how he got the entire peach into the bottle whole, he said "Well, I GREW it in the bottle - how else do ya think I'd have got it in there?!" He said it with a twinkle, though, and walked us out to one of his peach trees on which, sure enough, he has four or five other bottles affixed to the branches with tiny little budding peaches growing inside. Very limited edition, he said.

This was the tasting room and cafe, which we'd like to visit another time just for lunch. The back patio is frequently rented out for events, and one such was wrapping up during our visit as well.

From Vizzini we made our way further into the country part of Calera to Ozan Vineyards and Winery. Ozan was much different than we were expecting. It is on the smaller side but newer than any other Alabama winery we have ever visited. It was set on top of a hill, overlooking the vineyards. On a beautiful, clear day like the one we were enjoying, it was easy to forget we were in Alabama at all, or even possibly the country itself! We learned that Ozan has evening concert events from time to time, and if we had not already bought tickets for another event that night we would have stayed there the rest of the day. We arrived when they were transitioning from the afternoon tasting hours to setting up for their event, but we were still able to squeeze in a brief tasting and enjoyed a few minutes on the patio. With the breeze, beautiful weather, and nothing to see but lush green vines, we loved the calm and easygoing vibe that Ozan provides its visitors. We definitely plan to go back and try a few other of their many award-winning wines.

From Ozan we drove over to Harpersville, where we visited Morgan Creek Winery. The fun fact about this place was that we toured it on our first anniversary as part of a package deal with a local Bed and Breakfast (also when we discovered that, though quite lovely for some, the B&B world is just not for us...we are just not the kind of people who want to hang out with strangers when we're on vacation). The Morgan Creek owners have made lots of great changes in the past 13 years, and we even got to see them setting up for a summer wedding out on the lawn as well as pictures from other events on the digital display playing in the tasting room. We enjoyed some time on the front porch by the fountain, just chatting and appreciating the view.

From Harpersville we headed back to Bham for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra's annual Sci-Fi Soundtrack Concert. The guest conductor was hysterical, and we learned all kinds of cool back-stories about some of the great Science Fiction films as well as all about the theremin, a bizarre instrument that is electronically-based but played without actual physical contact. The theremin is what they used in old horror movies to make that odd wavy-like sound. The ASO even brought in a special guest, an expert theremin player, who talked about the instrument's history and then demonstrated how to play it. It was so strange and yet so awesome all at the same time. We had a lovely time on our first visit to the Symphony, but this time we had an absolute blast. Maybe because this time we knew when to clap

Our 14th anniversary was pretty simple, but it was low-key and calm...exactly what we needed. There are links below for more info if you and your honey or your BFFs want to check out any of the wineries we visited.

Vizzini Farms Winery - Calera, Alabama

Ozan Vineyard and Winery - Calera, Alabama

Morgan Creek Vineyards and Winery - Harpersville, AL

Alabama Wine Trail

Our kind of camping...

Matt has been after me to go camping for years. YEARS. "Let's go camping!" he said, time after time. "It will be fun!" he said. But I'm just not a camping kind of lady. I mean, the bugs. And the utter void of climate control. And all the gear. And the snakes. Sweet baby Moses, the snakes.

My Pearl Girl isn't a camper, either. The bugs swarm her, for one thing. And also for a child who was born on the Equator, she has a ridiculously low tolerance for heat. The Captain and Sassafras have camped before at the local state park, and I mean really camped as in the primitive kind of camping. But that is not for me, not even one little bit.

But we tried it recently, this camping thing. We tried it in a way that was a compromise between Matt's kind of camping (Tent in the snake-ridden wilderness) and my kind of camping (Hotel. Suite, please): RV camping.

The five of us plus our gigantic dog loaded up over Spring Break and headed to Stone Mountain, Georgia for a week of family fun and togetherness. I had studied up on RV camping and had pinned a lot of pinny-things in hopes to make the week as enjoyable as possible. Some of those were valuable and others...notsomuch.

You know, one thing I'll never understand about all of you Happy Campers is why you find such joy in toting a lite version of your whole kitchen out to the wilderness. Camping prep is hard, and that's why I don't understand why it's so enjoyable for so many. Vacation shouldn't be hard, man. Vacay should be EASY. It's the law.

The first thing I realized was that it takes time to settle in to an RV. There were unavoidable reasons for this, but the way things turned out we had to just dump bag after bag of stuff in the thing, convince Jericho this house on wheels was OK for him to jump up in, convince Sweet Love to get in her car seat even though it was confusing for her to have to ride in a car seat strapped to the side of a kitchen, and hit the road. I needed time to settle in, but instead just played the same round of hide and go seek with every single item I had need of over the next few days.

Once we got on the road, I noticed was that the RV - I like to name things, so we'll call him Rob - Rob was N-O-I-S-Y. Matt drove while the girls and I chilled in the back, but the word chill is actually a total lie there. There was 0 chilling in the back of that rattletrap RV. Rob's kibbles and bits complained noisily against every single bump in the road and (you people know I'm already deaf) we basically yelled simple phrases at each other, followed by "huh?" for hours. What a delight that was.

Add to that the fact that Sassafras was out of sorts and crying that her ear hurt. Sass, who has had maybe two ear infections in her entire 9 years, was crying of ear pain and had a fever. I would stagger down the "hall" to Rob's back "room," try to talk to the peds' nurse, be completely unable to hear her, drop the call, repeat. THAT was the cherry on top of our delightful little joyride. 

Now, all of this was not helping my opinion of camping as a family activity, but after arriving to the Stone Mountain campground, things improved drastically. We got settled in, had a prime spot near the bath house, playground, dog park, and beach volleyball court/huge sand pit. We had our own grill, deck, and fire pit. We were just a few miles away from historic Stone Mountain, and spent a few hours one day checking that out.

One of the most significant parts of Camp Prep was figuring out what and when and how all of these people + dog were going to eat. I was also semi-stressed the whole time because the refrigerator wasn't cooling with, like, exact efficiency. 

The Pinterest proved really helpful with some tried and true camping recipes, and that part (the food, because of course) was one of the most fun parts. We came up with all sorts of fun and inventive ways to cook all of the things.  

My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

It was so nice, though. Just to hang out and sit around in the peace and quiet, walk around and sniff it all in, and read for hours. 

Steak and potatoes! 

Steak and potatoes! 

So there you have it. We finally figured it out...our kind of camping.